Up in Indonesia’s Kendeng mountains live the Baduy—a community of ethnically Sundanese people who live without modern amenities in an attempt to preserve their ancient way of life.
Because present-day technology is taboo to the Baduy, they are seldom photographed. In fact, they are often referred to as the “Amish of Indonesia.” Photographer Martin Westlake—who is based in Jakarta, Indonesia, just over 100 miles away from the Baduy villages—recently visited the community to make a series of iPhone portraits of the people.
When Martin first visited the villages about 14 years ago, the area was much more remote and more difficult to access. Now, there are modern Indonesian Villages encroaching on the outer Baduy communities, and the people have much more contact with the outside world. There is even an ecotourism market, and the people are photographed more than they used to be. Still, the villages are about a seven-hour drive and a 45-minute trek from Jakarta. Martin had initially traveled to their village planning to shoot color portraits with studio lighting and his 4×5 film camera, but after a few road bumps, using his iPhone became the better choice.
When we arrived at Cijengkol village there was a harvest festival going on and we were told by the village head that we couldn’t shoot the portraits with my flash until the ceremonies had been completed. We were, however, allowed to set up our equipment. Whilst setting up, we attracted a group of curious onlookers and chatted with them and started taking iPhone shots of them in front of the background. I had previously experimented shooting portraits with Hipstamatic and love the Tintype SnapPak. It has a timeless feel to it, which I thought would work well for these portraits.
The next day, Martin and his team set up their “studio” again, but only a few of the villagers were willing to pose in front of the film camera, but many were happy to have him use his iPhone. The happy accident turned out to be a great approach to the project—there’s something beautifully ironic about photographing a community of people who live without modern technology using one of the most modern devices out there.
Before digital cameras, Martin regularly shot portraits with his medium and large format camera. He would spend hours printing in the darkroom and exhibited regularly. In 1996, Martin began a long-term project documenting the diverse cultures in Indonesia. To him, this project fits in nicely with the style of his earlier work, with the added interest that it was shot with new technology.
One challenge for Martin and his team was transporting everything they needed into the villages. They had to carry in all their food, drinking water, lighting equipment and camera kit. Another challenge was getting people to pose for the photos:
The main difficulty once there was finding people who would agree to be photographed and getting the balance right subject-wise. Shooting with the iPhone was a great advantage and acceptable to many of the villagers. Even so, the married women in the community refused to be shot.
So far, Martin has posted a selection of the photos to his Instagram and has just started sending the photos to friends. So far, he’s had a great response (even though his older photographer friends have been giving him a hard time about shooting a series on his iPhone!). He’s also in the process of designing some promos featuring the series and hopes to return to photograph the Baduy again in August to make the project more complete. Hopefully, he can garner some interest from a gallery to exhibit the series in his hometown of Jakarta. The main thing Martin has learned from shooting his first iPhone series? Bring a backup battery.